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Sherpas: Scaling Everest with the one percent

Relatives at a funeral of a Sherpa guide.

Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

Relatives at a funeral of a Sherpa guide.

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Mount Everest fascinates adventure travelers around the world, and in some ways its popularity has been a godsend for the impoverished people who live near the mountain. The pay for a few months of guiding climbers up the dangerous peak often exceeds what the average Nepali earns in a year. Yet the recent avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas shows that the price for vanity mountaineering can be stiff: insurance benefits for the guides were paltry.

That’s unfortunate, considering how much the profile of Everest climbers has changed since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed the peak in 1953. Hardcore alpinists have moved on to other challenges. Now an Everest expedition has become a kind of romantic adventure for the one percent, who hire Sherpas to do the heavy lifting.

Nepal charges stiff fees to offset the cost of environmental damage from climbing. But in the wake of the avalanche, Sherpas are demanding that more of the money go to minimum benefits for them, too. They want a $10,000 payout to the families of the deceased guides, and an increase in insurance coverage. If that means higher climbing fees, so be it. For the wealthy globetrotters who fuel the Everest economy, a few more dollars for the men who make their feats possible seems like the least they can do.

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